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Helping Our Ukrainian Friends volunteers from Stamford and Peterborough help run summer respite for war widows and their children





Volunteers have returned from a ‘bittersweet’ overseas trip to help run a summer camp for Ukrainian war widows and their children.

It was part of a biggest-ever project by Helping Our Ukrainian Friends, a humanitarian aid group set up by Helpston man Richard Astle and friends in 2020.

Each year it sends out volunteers, including those from the Stamford area, to help run the annual respite camp in Poland. It also delivers aid convoys of donated aid for frontline communities.

Richard Astle, who helped to launch Helping Our Ukrainian Friends, arrives at the summer camp
Richard Astle, who helped to launch Helping Our Ukrainian Friends, arrives at the summer camp

As well as support on a practical level, it also helps reduce fears among Ukrainians that they have been forgotten.

“Being a volunteer on camp is a very bittersweet experience,” said Richard.

“There are many moments of joy and happiness, particularly when you see the widows and the children start to come through the initial suspicion and smile and engage – with us and with each other.

This year's camp helped 65 Ukrainian children who have lost their fathers to war
This year's camp helped 65 Ukrainian children who have lost their fathers to war

“But at the heart of it all you can never forgot they shouldn’t be at camp in Poland at all.

“And that nothing will ever compensate for the loss of their husbands and fathers, and the destruction of their communities.”

He added: “Our friends in Rivne, Chernivtsi, Kharkiv and Kyiv tell us of the continued loss of friends and family, regular air raid alarms and increasingly prolonged periods without electricity.”

The camp aim to bring a little joy into the lives of families who have suffered the consequences of war
The camp aim to bring a little joy into the lives of families who have suffered the consequences of war

Five volunteers spent nine days in Gliwice in June, helping set up and run the week-long respite camp for 28 Ukrainian war widows and their 65 children.

The camps are organised by a church in Gliwice, with HOUF paying for half of the costs thanks to donations.

The recently-widowed women were offered grief counselling with professional Ukrainian therapists, and the chance to take part in games and craft sessions and go out for dinner together.

HOUF volunteers organised and ran activities for the children including arts classes, games and sports
HOUF volunteers organised and ran activities for the children including arts classes, games and sports

For the children, the HOUF volunteers organised and ran art classes, games and sports, swimming, and English language classes.

“The camp does work,” Richard added.

“We have received many messages of thanks from the widows, and on the final night, one of them made an emotional speech of thanks to all involved for showing them the world hadn’t forgotten, and that there was hope.

HOUF paid for 50 per cent of the camp's costs thanks to donations
HOUF paid for 50 per cent of the camp's costs thanks to donations

“And they now have new friendships and support networks of their own, which we know from the last two camps continue way beyond a week in June.”

This year the camp was combined with the latest aid convoy delivered by a separate HOUF team.

Four vans were driven over with five tons of donated food, medical supplies, sanitary ware, LED bulbs, toys, bikes and even musical instruments.

This convoy was boosted by Peterborough construction company, Princebuild, which raised £32,000 for HOUF’s work this year.

Aid was loaded onto a Polish lorry and taken to Rivne, in Ukraine, from where the supplies will be taken to frontline communities in Kharkiv and Sumy.

“For the eight drivers who arrived on the last night of the camp, the welcome they received on arrival will stay in their memories for ever,” Richard recalled.

Next month, Six HOUF volunteers will travel to Bucharest to pick up three 4x4 vehicles it has bought in Romania which will be driven on to Kyiv to give to Ukrainian army medical teams.

And in September a team will be in Kyiv again to buy food and supplies before a pre-Christmas aid convoy sets off from here to Ukraine in December.

For more details about their work, visit www.helpingourukrainianfriends.com and its Facebook page. Donations can be made at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/helpingourukrainianfriends2023



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